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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

temper temper

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via google

I don’t have a terrible temper. I can take quite a bit of hassle, as long as it’s just about me. No one will agree w/ you all the time, nor will everyone like you. So it’s silly to get put out when those things happen — disagreements & people not liking you. That said, I am still that kid who yelled It’s not fair! And when it’s not? Well, I have this tendency to… ignite?

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To aggravate the whole thing, I used to think you had to ‘talk things out’ immediately — in the white hot Vesuvius of my reaction to whatever. NOT the best idea, I now realise. But it seemed (for many many years) that to let things go was, somehow, to cave to the idea that women should be the ones who ‘give in,’ or ‘compromise’ (the euphemistic term for what women do in most jobs…). And that was NOT me.

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These days, however, I’ve come to see that sometimes, a disagreement disappears on its own when folks are rested, fed, and some time has elapsed. Sometimes we need distance from our anger. It gives us perspective. This is so obvious to me today that it’s embarrassing to confess how recently I came to this realisation!

So here’s my day’s advice for our beginner’s hearts: let it go today. Back off from whatever it is that is driving you nuts. Take a deep breath, continue your life, and return to what’s lighting your bonfire tomorrow. Or even in a couple of days. If it’s really worth your passionate upheaval, believe me: it will still be there. But chances are, if you give it some time & space, it will go out like, well, a fire w/out fuel. And that’s a good thing, believe me.

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Buddhism talks a lot about letting go — which is NOT the same as not caring. It’s giving space to whatever the feeling is, and not attaching. So when your anger flames, don’t feed it. Acknowledge it, and then take a deep breath. Go get some tea, or take a walk. Let your incandescent rage die back, the way fires do when they don’t have fuel. It turns out — giving in to rage is the very best way to feed it. And walking away from it? Like a damp shower. I just wish I’d known this a couple of decades back! It would have saved everyone a LOT of burn…

 

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beneath winter

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In winter, much happens out of sight. Magic is uncurling beneath piles of frost-blackened leaves, beneath the glistening canvas of snow. In dormant hives, bees cluster around the queen, warming her w/ their own bodies. And in burrows, sleepy rabbits, foxes, & moles prepare for spring births.

I’ve always loved winter. It seems to me to brim with infinite possibility, while still affording the peace to dream of each one. It’s curling up in a chair beneath a warm fleecy throw, w/ a book on the octopus. It’s making hot chocolate w/ prime chocolate, and adding a few more marshmallows (because there really is no such thing as too many!). It’s the certainty that you are warm, cosy, & safe.

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Even though so many aren’t. And that’s the knife-edge of privilege.

Via Google

Via Google

Warmth is one of the most basic of privileges, in the winter. My elder son, DIL, & grandson are in the middle of the East Coast snow dump, more than a foot of snow expected (maybe two!). But their house is a remodel, w/ great heat. So I don’t have to worry, like I would if they were off in the Big Woods, or on the icy prairie a century ago. Modern conveniences (mod cons, as the Brits say) offer heat, hot water, and light. It’s only when those disappear that we talk about ‘disasters.’

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Our everyday American life is a LOT to be thankful for. And something I rarely take for granted, after living in countries where electricity, water, and basic supplies (toilet paper!) sometimes disappeared for days on end.

Beneath the the surface of my winter — safely cocooned in the comfort of gas heat & electric light — I’m free to plan gardens that will bloom come summer. Free to dream of the ocean when it warms up. Free not to worry about my sons, each to his own battered coastline, struggling w/ the contretemps of blizzards & icy storms.

Let’s hear it for ordinary privilege: heat, light, refrigeration, and clean laundry. All those things we need before we can go back to musing…

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the art of interdependence

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via google

I love reading my horoscope. I won’t go so far as to say I believe it, but often it really does hit the nail, etc. Spot-on, as a Brit friend of mine would say.

Today was one of those days.

I’m involved in several non-profit organisations. (When you work cheap — free! — folks ask you to do so…a LOT.) And sometimes, the requirements to do a good job overlap with family commitments, w/other organisations, w/illness, etc. To the point where I can grow to feel overwhelmed.

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But here’s the deal: a word from anyone (even an online horoscope :) ) can remind us what our values are, and that working for larger goals requires that we cede some of our autonomy those lovely hours when nothing looms to working as a team. It means juggling family needs — however immediate & pressing — w/conferences, advocacy, meetings & other commitments. And it’s not that it’s onerous: a 40-hour workweek it isn’t! Even though it takes time & effort (like trees, which are such needy things in early years!), it bears fruit. Like…well, trees.

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My horoscope this week — the week I totally spaced on an important meeting, the week I had to tell someone that I was waiting to hear from family re: commitments that had just been written across my previously blank calendar — was succinct:

If you want the power to help shape group processes, you must give up some of your autonomy. In order to motivate allies to work toward shared goals, you need to practice the art of interdependence.

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You don’t get much more overt than THAT!

It’s true, though. If we want to be part of the solution, we have to BE part of it. We have to show up. We have to do the slogging work, not just be greedy piglets for what few perks may come. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t continue to be difficult (at least for me) to schedule these my many priorities: a supportive visit to family, a meeting, a conference, a dinner honouring a guest. I struggle almost daily w/how to parse my own values, if that makes sense. I am my parents’ daughter, so family is always at the top of any list. And yet… I also have to ‘show up’ for these children of my heart — social justice, the arts, mentees who need letters of reference, recommendations, and other motions of support that require time & scheduling.

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the author's

the author’s

Remember the meme going around for a while, about the rocks in your jar? For me, it became pebbles in a bowl a dear friend chose for me. Each pebble a week, one swallowed permanently by time’s greedy throat. And how I spend each one is all I have control over. So when I choose one each Sunday, to represent that week’s activities, what I’m also doing is giving a colour value, a weight & tangible heft, to my values. This week’s pebble was all different shades of brown & cream, almost muddy. But since my ‘pebbles’ are polished, the browns are a bit clearer. :) And that’s good. Because while my values do bleed together, at the same time each person or organisation or cause has different, separate needs.

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Maybe this makes no sense at all (my beloved often reminds me that most folks do NOT get my metaphors!). But this is, fundamentally, how I think, how I make sense of the world around me. In pictures rocks in a jar, pebbles in a bowl and stories and signs a fortune from a horoscope, the planting of a tree. I hope it works at least a little for you, too. So that you begin to pay more attention to how you spend your time. Because how we spend our time is where we show up. Which is, of course, where our values are. It’s all interconnected: values, time, priorities, our people and their needs. Hence the interdependence. Kind of like, oh, that old Buddhist web…

 

 

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the heart of the family

the author

the author

Today my niece, nephew, & my delightfully vocal grand-niece came over. I’d made chowder & skillet cornbread, and my husband had railroad ties to go. It was a good plan: I got to coo over all three ‘kids’!

Little makes me as happy as babies and family. And when I have both in one room — my accomplished niece and her elf princess daughter — I’m beyond content.

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I have no idea how America managed before decent transportation. When I was a child, I read all the Little House books. One of the (many) things that remained with me was the isolation of the various moves, from a lengthy trip through the Big Woods to the middle-of-nowhere prairie. What I remember was the necessity of relying on only your nuclear family, as no one else could reach you w/out a LOT of effort.

As the child who grew up spending weeks one end at a beloved aunt’s, or a grandmother’s, or even a great-aunt’s, I was a sure of my extended family as I was of the sun. Until we moved, when I was eight. At that point, I hadn’t read the Little House books, and I was certain my grandmother & great-aunt would disappear. Life, I believed, was only in the immediate present. W/out me there? Grandma, Aunt Bonnie — all my old ladies and younger ones — would thin at the edges like a photo from time travel gone awry.

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the author's

the author’s

This past week has been full of family, which has grown my beginner’s heart at least two sizes! There was tea, there was visiting, there were photo shoots and old stories, and finding out things I never knew (and I’m a pretty hardcore collector of family stories!). All three of my sisters and I took one of my two remaining aunts to high tea — real high tea, w/ food for dinner and scones, sweets, etc. As well as POTS of tea, of course. Later, we met my other aunt & her 2 daughters for coffee.

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I should be familied out, but instead? I’m warm, cozy, and loved. My aunts still remember me as a baby. As the preschooler who was flower girl in each of their weddings. As the rebellious teenager who needed counselling & affirmation. As the hesitant young mother of sons. As the daughter grieving as their sister descended into the black hole of Alzheimer’s. And now? They indulge me in my novice rôle of grandmother, a part they each have played to perfection, for many years. With their support, I’m one pearl in a long string of precious pearls. We go back decades; they go back further. We are the offspring of pioneer women, teachers, mothers & healers & brave divorcées. History beats within us, linked hearts in a chain of family.

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For those of us seeking to expand our limited human hearts, family is a wonderful first step. It’s easy to love your aunts, cousins, nieces. And of course who doesn’t love my sisters?? Seriously — the Dalai Lama reminds us that it is easy to love our mothers, but that we need to try to extend from that starting point, that first bright point of love. He says begin with what easy, then step out. This is how I do it, with the easiest of open embraces: my mother’s sisters, daughters, and grandchildren. And my own. It’s no hardship at all. Just the recognition of all that connects us.

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